Knowledge Brokerage: The Musical: an analogy for explaining the role of knowledge brokers in a university setting

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  • 1 University of Queensland, , Australia
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Background:

Knowledge brokers in higher education are described as requiring a broad range of skills and characteristics, leading to both role conflict and ambiguity. Although existing studies report broad concepts regarding the role of knowledge brokers, the activities that they actually perform to broker knowledge are not systematically reported or impact evaluated.

Aims and objectives:

This paper aims to summarise the current literature on the role of knowledge brokers and describe this role in a higher education context. In an exploratory study, as two knowledge brokers we recorded our activities within a school of health in a large university setting using the Expert Recommendations for Implementation Change (ERIC) categories over a period of nine months. Using this report, we use the analogy of a musical to translate the role of knowledge broker. Considering the knowledge brokerage roles of musical director, set designer, choreographer, costume designer and sound and lighting, we discuss the impact of knowledge brokerage activities on actors relaying their knowledge story to an end-user audience. Knowledge brokers in the higher education context primarily perform activities in four areas: know your cast and crew; train your cast and crew; rehearse and review; and provide hands-on support.

Key conclusions:

Understanding the role of knowledge brokers may be enhanced by using the analogy of a musical. Due to the diverse nature of these roles, it is recommended that knowledge brokerage in higher education is performed in teams, where knowledge brokers can utilise different skill sets to facilitate their work.

Abstract

Background:

Knowledge brokers in higher education are described as requiring a broad range of skills and characteristics, leading to both role conflict and ambiguity. Although existing studies report broad concepts regarding the role of knowledge brokers, the activities that they actually perform to broker knowledge are not systematically reported or impact evaluated.

Aims and objectives:

This paper aims to summarise the current literature on the role of knowledge brokers and describe this role in a higher education context. In an exploratory study, as two knowledge brokers we recorded our activities within a school of health in a large university setting using the Expert Recommendations for Implementation Change (ERIC) categories over a period of nine months. Using this report, we use the analogy of a musical to translate the role of knowledge broker. Considering the knowledge brokerage roles of musical director, set designer, choreographer, costume designer and sound and lighting, we discuss the impact of knowledge brokerage activities on actors relaying their knowledge story to an end-user audience. Knowledge brokers in the higher education context primarily perform activities in four areas: know your cast and crew; train your cast and crew; rehearse and review; and provide hands-on support.

Key conclusions:

Understanding the role of knowledge brokers may be enhanced by using the analogy of a musical. Due to the diverse nature of these roles, it is recommended that knowledge brokerage in higher education is performed in teams, where knowledge brokers can utilise different skill sets to facilitate their work.

Key messages

  • To date the role of knowledge brokers in higher education has been poorly defined.

  • In practice, the role is building relationships, training, reviewing and providing hands-on support.

  • The musical analogy helps explain knowledge broker roles as director, choreographer and set designer.

  • Due to the diverse nature of knowledge broker roles, teamwork is recommended.

Background

When you sit in the audience on opening night of a new musical, you rarely think about all that has had to happen to make the production come to fruition. You are there to watch, hear and engage with the story. But the clarity of the story, however grand or simple, is only possible because many parts have worked together to make the whole – the set design and costumes, the lighting, the music. It all plays a part in helping you understand what happens on the stage before you. We propose the analogy of a musical to explain the role of knowledge brokers (KB) in higher education. The performance of a knowledge ‘musical’ by academic actors for a consumer audience who provide feedback (for example, practitioners, industry partners, service users, or other academics) is contingent on the KB performing many critical roles in the lead-up to the performance. In this paper, we review the current literature on the role of KBs and then systematically report on our role as two KBs working in a higher education setting, showing how this fits within the analogy of Knowledge Brokerage: The Musical.

Who are knowledge brokers and what do they do?

Over the last decade, researchers have sought to define the role and characteristics of KBs. Currently, there is no standard job description or widely accepted qualifications required by KBs (Traynor et al, 2014). Often described as ‘intermediaries’ or ‘boundary spanners’(Williams, 2002), KBs link decision makers with researchers, facilitating interaction and understanding of each other’s goals to address the ‘know-do-gap’ (Lomas, 2007). KBs move between the different worlds of knowledge producers and knowledge users (Meyer, 2010), facilitating alignment between different perspectives and practices (Kislov et al, 2017) building capacity for knowledge translation. In our role as two KBs in a higher education context, we sought to understand what the literature said about exactly who KBs are and what they should do.

Several authors have tried to provide clarity by developing theoretical frameworks for the role of KBs. One of the most well-known is that of Ward et al who reported three aspects of knowledge brokerage: knowledge management (finding, packaging and disseminating information); linkage and exchange (facilitating discussions between researchers and decision makers); and capacity building (developing capacity for future knowledge exchange) (Ward et al, 2009). Although this framework is sufficiently broad to include most aspects of brokering and act as a guide for future KB activities and interventions, it does not facilitate potential knowledge brokers to understand the actual tasks they should carry out. Further to this, a recent review of 47 knowledge mobilisation frameworks concluded that knowledge mobilisation should be considered according to the questions of why the knowledge is mobilised, whose knowledge is mobilised, and what type and how that knowledge is mobilised (Ward, 2017). These criteria, however, focus on the movement of knowledge rather than the often intangible but essential relational aspects critical to knowledge brokerage. Knowledge brokerage is not just transferring the results of research, but organising the interactive process for this to happen (Van Kammen et al, 2006), and it is the effectiveness of KBs within their context in facilitating ‘what’ and ‘how’ collectively that leads to impact (Bayley and Phipps, 2019). Although previous studies suggest what the broad KB role may be, as KBs the vague ideas of ‘managing knowledge’ or ‘building capacity’ didn’t necessarily help us understand what our job should practically involve when we showed up to work on a Monday morning.

In other efforts to understand the role of KBs, the literature has attempted to define the personal characteristics most needed by KBs. To successfully broker knowledge you must be: entrepreneurial, trustworthy, a clear communicator (Lomas, 2007), authentic, respectful, approachable, flexible, responsive, reliable and self-confident (Stetler et al, 2011), enthusiastic, creative, a great listener, courageous, tactful, committed, and nimble-footed (Phipps and Morton, 2013)! Phipps and Morton create the image of the KB as being ‘a Roman god with winged sandals, a cheerleader, artist, therapist, tight-rope walking athlete’ (Phipps and Morton, 2013). In short, a role demanding a truly remarkable, diverse person and, if we were being honest, while these characteristics are indeed all desirable, it was near impossible for us as KBs to conceptualise the transition from theoretical description to practical execution (and indeed overwhelming to think that we needed to possess them all to be successful). It is likely this role conflict and ambiguity that leads to the reported stress of knowledge brokerage and the difficulty KBs, like us, have explaining our role to others (Chew et al, 2013). Given the diversity of the KB role, in practice, KBs report feeling like their roles are unrealistically broad and undefined (Lightowler and Knight, 2013), with the role requiring flexibility and responsiveness to nuanced contextual features (Bornbaum et al, 2015). After reviewing this literature, we felt these broad roles and characteristics of the ideal KB still failed to inform what this job really is and who should do it, leaving us as KBs with only a loose roadmap to navigate the path to translation.

Our work as KBs was specifically in the university context. Historically, the mission of universities initially focused on teaching, with a varying, but increasing emphasis on research over time, and more recently, emphasising the importance of its contribution to society more broadly (Martinelli et al, 2008). Although it is often assumed that universities are motivated to transfer the knowledge they produce (Harvey et al, 2015), many internal boundaries exist that create barriers to sharing knowledge in universities (Currie and White, 2012; Kislov et al, 2017). Academics have traditionally relied on publications and conference attendance as knowledge translation activities (Cramm et al, 2016) and report limited skills, confidence and perceived lack of incentives for engaging in knowledge translation activities such as involving end users in research or active implementation strategies (Harvey et al, 2015). Researchers in university contexts often do not see knowledge translation as their responsibility and rarely use active research dissemination techniques (Gholami et al, 2013). Furthermore, academics report a lack of funding and administrative support to carry out knowledge translation activities (Jacobson et al, 2004). Knowledge translation cannot simply be adopted as a goal of the university with the expectation that staff will automatically embrace it, rather, specific strategies to improve understanding of knowledge translation need to be built into the university context (Harvey et al, 2015). Despite this reported need, KBs in higher education settings are often employed on short, fixed-term contracts, with poorly defined roles and little potential for career progression (Lightowler and Knight, 2013). As is the case with other KB roles reported in the literature, the activities that KBs in higher education environments engage in (what they actually do), has not been reported.

Re-thinking: who are knowledge brokers and what do they do?

With this significant role ambiguity and limited evidence as to how this might function in the university context, as KBs we thought this called for a simple analogy to describe knowledge brokerage, particularly in the higher education context to help potential KBs understand their role and what activities it entailed. Rather than using complex theoretical language, analogies help people to understand a novel concept like knowledge brokerage by comparing it to something both familiar and relatable. Analogies are cognitive strategies that can reduce the uncertainty of complex novel situations, activities or phenomena by comparing them to familiar past experiences (Chan et al, 2012). In so doing they provide a lens or heuristic for the individual to recall and extend their understanding of complex ideas, with the caveat that analogies also have their limits.

In this paper we describe the role and activities completed by two KBs working in higher education. This paper reports on the recording of an activity log detailing KB activities documented over a nine-month period. The following sections describe the implementation activities of the KBs based on this data and propose an analogy for understanding this: Knowledge Brokerage: The Musical.

Assessment of the knowledge broker role: the recorded activities of KBs in higher education

We report on our role as KBs within a health and rehabilitation school in a large metropolitan based university. The school included 110 teaching and research academic staff, 170 higher degree research (HDR) candidates and 20 professional clinic staff across four disciplines including physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech pathology and audiology. Two KBs at 0.8FTE combined were employed to: 1) facilitate research activities between academic and clinic staff within the school clinics, and 2) improve capacity for knowledge translation. Guided by the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) definition of knowledge translation, we sought to facilitate the knowledge, skills and practice of staff and students in synthesis, dissemination, exchange and implementation of knowledge (CIHR, 2010). Taking into consideration the broad recommendations from the literature for our new role as KBs, we recorded the daily work tasks (including time taken) to map what the role entailed. The Expert Recommendations for Implementation Change (ERIC) framework (Powell et al, 2015; Waltz et al, 2015) was then used to categorise each activity into the corresponding implementation domain and activity. Previous studies have used an exploratory approach to coding the KB role, however we chose a well-established framework for planning implementation interventions to enable future replication and the use of a common language. Although the ERIC categories are most suited to implementation research within a clinical setting, this was considered appropriate for our context as we were implementing knowledge translation skills in a university school of academics and clinicians who are health professionals. The ERIC framework groups 73 identified implementation strategies into nine domains, or clusters, that were identified through concept mapping by an expert panel in implementation science (Waltz et al, 2015). All KB activities were categorised by ERIC domain and strategies by the authors. Independent ratings were compared and discrepancies discussed and rated by consensus, with a third researcher available for consensus as required. This study formed part of a larger investigation of knowledge translation in higher education that was approved by the Human Research and Ethics Committee of the University of Queensland (2020000098). There are obvious limitations in understanding the extent to which recommendations can be applied more broadly based on the reported activities of only two KBs over a short nine-month period within one university sector. However, case studies such as these are known to provide an empirically-rich, context-specific account of real-world practice (Yin, 2012) and given the lack of first-hand practice knowledge on the role of KBs in the university context, this was considered the most appropriate method in this instance.

Of the nine ERIC domains, seven were utilised during the first year of knowledge brokerage in a higher education setting, including 24 of 73 potential ERIC tasks (Table 1). The most significant time investment was ‘Train and educate stakeholders’ (38%), followed by ‘Use evaluative and iterative strategies’ (25%), and ‘Develop stakeholder inter-relationships’ (23%). Overall, the largest time expenditure for specific activities was ‘Developing educational materials’ (25%), followed by ‘Conduct ongoing training’ (10%), and then ‘Capture and share local knowledge’ (9%). Two ERIC domains were not utilised at all: Support clinicians (related to supporting clinicians implementing interventions) and Engage consumers (related to engaging end-users in implementation in clinical settings). Because the setting was a university rather than a hospital, and as KBs we were supporting researchers in a non-clinical setting to implement in their practice, these ERIC domains and the corresponding implementation strategies did not fit with our KB activities in this setting (see Figure 1a and Figure 1b).

Table 1:

The role of the knowledge broker in higher education according to the Expert Recommendations for Implementation Change (ERIC) framework

RecommendationERIC domain and implementation strategyTime (minutes) (% of total time in minutes)
Train your cast and crewTrain and educate stakeholders20874 (39%)
Develop educational materials13349 (25%)
Conduct ongoing training5382 (10%)
Distribute educational materials1475 (3%)
Conduct educational meetings668 (1%)
Rehearse and reviewUse evaluative and iterative strategies13907 (26%)
Assess for readiness and identify barriers and facilitators3379 (6%)
Develop and organise quality monitoring systems2963 (6%)
Conduct local needs assessment2765 (5%)
Develop a formal implementation blueprint2420 (5%)
Purposely re-examine intervention1910 (4%)
Develop and implement tools for quality monitoring470 (<1%)
Know your audience, cast and crewDevelop stakeholder interrelationships10384 (20%)
Capture and share local knowledge4851.5 (9%)
Conduct local consensus discussions1630 (3%)
Build a coalition1420 (3%)
Inform local opinion leaders865 (2%)
Develop academic partnerships500 (1%)
Promote network weaving485 (1%)
Use an implementation advisor395 (1%)
Identify early adopters177.5 (<1%)
Use advisory boards and workgroups60 (<1%)
Provide hands on supportProvide interactive assistance3194.5 (6%)
Facilitation1964.5 (4%)
Provide local technical assistance1230 (2%)
Adapt and tailor to context2597.5 (5%)
Tailor strategies2597.5 (5%)
Change infrastructure2292 (4%)
Change record systems2292 (4%)
Utilise financial strategies120 (<1%)
Access new funding120 (<1%)
Figure 1: The knowledge broker role in higher education consists of four main categories.
Figure 1a:

ERIC category domains for the knowledge broker role

Citation: Evidence & Policy 2022; 10.1332/174426421X16397424861558

Figure 1b:
Figure 1b:

ERIC category activities for the knowledge broker role (with % of total time)

Citation: Evidence & Policy 2022; 10.1332/174426421X16397424861558

Based on our knowledge of the timeline of activities carried out during the recording period, we have reported on the evolving role of the KB in higher education represented in Figure 2. Initially our role was focused on building relationships and assessing barriers as we got to know all key stakeholders and assess where the greatest areas of need for knowledge translation were. As the year progressed, the role also evolved to be more focused on delivering training and providing hands-on support, tailored by these earlier evaluations and relationship building (Figure 2). We have utilised this data to guide our discussion about the KB role within higher education in order to make key recommendations for individuals planning to broker knowledge in the university context.

Figure 2: The knowledge broker role in higher education changes over time.
Figure 2:

Timeline of the evolving role of the knowledge broker in higher education of the three most common activities in each domain of practice

Citation: Evidence & Policy 2022; 10.1332/174426421X16397424861558

Knowledge Brokerage: The Musical

In reflecting on our experience as KBs within higher education and the data we have collected, we think that the analogy of best fit to facilitate understanding about our role in universities is Knowledge Brokerage: The Musical. Using this analogy, various roles required for a musical (for example, director, choreographer, set designer) align with the many roles of the KB team. To understand the KB role, we first need to describe the context and cast.

The stage and storyline

In this story, higher education was the stage, and specifically a school of health which employs academics and clinicians. The script was the research (occurring well before the musical performance), undertaken by researchers who may have consulted end users of the research (the potential audience) to ensure it was appealing. This stage and storyline could vary across many contexts – from simple, low-resourced settings with limited funding, to complex and costly productions.

The cast

On the stage of higher education, the cast are academics, researchers, teachers and clinicians who are wanting to partner with others to facilitate an integrated approach to translate knowledge to an end user audience of clinicians, patients, students, other academics and policymakers. KBs are not the actors. If the doing role is taken on by the KB, the actors never learn to deliver their story and the message would be lost the moment the KB steps off the stage. Due to the very specific contexts in which knowledge is often translated, a KB is likely to be affiliated to a profession into which knowledge is being brokered (Currie and White, 2012). In our case, the KBs had a background in two of the four discipline groups who were the actors. As rehearsals continue, the facilitatory function of KBs can be abandoned over time, as groups become more familiar with the knowledge transferred (Meyer, 2010), and the story is told by these actors. At the end of it all, when the applause is given and the bows are taken, the KB is rarely to be seen amongst the faces on stage. But if they failed to fill any of their many potential roles in the knowledge musical, the story may never have been told.

The KB is behind the scenes, facilitating the actors to share their story, by carrying out various roles, within the systematic context of the musical. In this, the KB plays roles of director, set designer, choreographer, singing and dancing instructor, sound and lighting and costume design. Based on this concept and the data we collected as KBs, we propose that the role and associated tasks of KBs in higher education can be given clarity by following five main principles of practice with specific examples provided in Table 2.

Table 2:

Principles of practice for Knowledge Brokerage: The Musical with Expert Recommendations for Implementation Change (ERIC) domains and Knowledge Broker activities

Principle of practiceImplementation StrategyMusical roleActivity examples
Know your audience, cast and crew: Develop stakeholder interrelationshipsIdentify local opinion leadersDirectorMet with significant academics who had influence in particular disciplines or research/clinical groups to encourage them to facilitate others in the knowledge translation effort.
Identify and prepare championsDirectorMet with heads of each discipline to assist in gaining momentum and support from academic staff and students in each professional group.
Identify early adoptersDirectorMet with key researchers who were already involved in implementation work and profiled this work in our training.
Build a coalitionDirectorBuilt trusting relationships within our small team and with our supervisors.
Capture and share local knowledgeSet designer/ costume designerMet with all key stakeholders from academic to clinical staff and students, documented their thoughts on perceived barriers and facilitators to knowledge translation and research activities and shared these broadly.
Train your cast and crew. Train and educate stakeholdersDevelop educational materialsDirectorDeveloped a suite of training. Translating knowledge translation seminar series with workshop materials, online training links and resource page on topics such as introduction to knowledge translation, knowledge translation frameworks and integrated knowledge translation. Developed a knowledge translation and impact planning resource to guide staff and students through knowledge translation planning. Included an instructional guide and workbook to introduce knowledge translation concepts and then step-by-step guide for planning and evaluating knowledge translation work.
Distribute educational materialsDirectorDistributed to staff a monthly e-newsletter called the ‘The Translator’ on a knowledge translation related theme, providing written summaries, links to useful resources and articles, videos of experts and information about upcoming training. Online tracking recorded significant use.
Conduct educational meetingsDirector/ choreographerProvided face-to-face educational meetings/workshops in a knowledge translation workshop series.
Conduct ongoing trainingDirector/ choreographerProvided regular pre-booked mentoring sessions to provide one-on-one support to individuals or small groups of staff wishing to translate their research.
Rehearse and review. Use evaluative and iterative strategiesAssessing for readiness and identifying barriers and facilitatorsDirectorConducted a baseline questionnaire for all staff and HDR students to examine the knowledge, skill and practice level in knowledge translation and preparedness to change.
Local needs assessmentsSet designerMet with both academic and research staff asking a series of pre-considered questions to understand how to best facilitate research activity that could be embedded into the clinic context, and developed a formal report that was fed back to all staff in a school-wide meeting highlighting the strengths, challenges and opportunities for change.
Developed and used tools to monitor performance and purposely re-examine progressDirectorRe-examined the implementation regularly through formal (surveys completed after training, questionnaires asking for feedback on specific resources that we developed, online tracking of resource usage) and informal feedback (collation of written and verbal feedback given to us as KBs and other staff).
Developed and regularly reevaluated our implementation blueprintDirectorRe-evaluated plan to ensure that we were on target to achieve our goals and identified tasks required to do this.
Provide hands on support: Provide interactive assistance, tailor to the context, change infrastructureProvide local technical assistanceSet designerDeveloped an accessible, living document to facilitate communication between academic and clinic staff.
FacilitationSound and lightingFacilitated the right people to connect through mentoring sessions and intentional connections in meetings and via email.
Change record systemsDirectorDeveloped gatekeeping processes and forms to facilitate research processes in the clinic environment and communication between clinic and research staff.
Tailor strategiesCostume designerTailored and packaged relevant information and resources via our Translator newsletter and online resource portal.

Know your audience, cast and crew: develop stakeholder inter-relationships

To successfully play their part so that the audience understands the story and is impacted by it, it is essential that your cast and crew work well as a team. The KB plays a key role in initiating, developing and nurturing relationships with and between others. Knowledge depends on interpersonal networks for its circulation (Greenhalgh, 2004). Although, in our case, less hours were dedicated to this than training and educating stakeholders, without this we think the rest of our implementation efforts would have failed. Interestingly, developing stakeholder interrelationships was also the ERIC domain where we utilised the largest number of different implementation strategies, showing the variety of ways in which stakeholder interrelationships were developed. Although the different aspects of relationship building all have slightly different goals, in our experience they were dependent on two very important ingredients: time and listening. Within the university setting, providing staff with an opportunity to connect and communicate seems critical for improving knowledge translation (Szulanski et al, 2016). Meetings were held with specific agendas to harness other aspects of developing relationships, such as bringing different groups together to capture and share local knowledge or informing local opinion leaders about changes in the implementation effort, but as part of those interactions, relationships were built and strengthened. We often referred to the ‘Cup of Tea Paradigm’, where having a cup of tea with someone, taking the time to really listen to them, is important for moving implementation forward. In our experience, relationships were the key ingredient to success, where really understanding how to harness the strengths and support the challenges of the individuals who made up our cast and crew facilitated them to share their story with their audience to greater effect.

Train your cast and crew: train and educate stakeholders

To deliver a musical, training focused on general skill building (singing, dancing), and context-specific training (how to do a particular scene so the audience can understand the story) are required. Based on our data, the primary task of a KB in higher education is to train their cast and crew. Just like the director would identify the needs of the actors on stage and target training accordingly, so too the KB identifies gaps in the knowledge of their recipients and targets their training. Sometimes the job of training the cast and crew is smaller-scale or more individually specific (for example, mentoring), with the KB taking on roles like set designer (for example, training in frameworks for knowledge translation or developing educational materials) or choreographer (for example, training in what action to take next in the implementation effort). Regardless of scope, training and education required the largest investment of time.

Rehearse and review: use evaluative and iterative strategies

In a musical, rehearsing and reviewing is critical for a successful performance. So too in knowledge brokerage in higher education, evaluating the implementation is essential. Just as a musical director knows the baseline ability of his cast to deliver the story after their auditions so, too, the KB must examine the baseline readiness of the people they are working with and identify barriers to moving forward. It is consistently reported in the KB literature that there is a lack of strong evidence supporting the effectiveness of knowledge brokerage, (Ward et al, 2009; Bornbaum et al, 2015), with KBs encouraged to build evaluative practices into their work (MacKillop et al, 2020; Newman et al, 2020). Many KBs have an outward focus on facilitating knowledge utilisation rather than measuring their own success, however assessing the effectiveness of KBs needs to be a critical part of KB practice (Newman et al, 2020), with it being recommended that frameworks to facilitate this process be developed and utilised (Ward et al, 2009; Newman et al, 2020). This aspect of evaluation does seem to be absent from previous reported models of knowledge management, linkage and exchange, and capacity building (Ward et al, 2009). The feedback we gathered directed us to meet needs as they emerged. We evaluated the success of our role by measuring changes in knowledge, confidence, beliefs about and practice in knowledge translation, the findings of which will be reported separately.

Provide hands on support: provide interactive assistance, tailor to the context, change infrastructure

For a musical to take place, significant local technical assistance is required. Sometimes the KB plays the role of sound and lighting director, a role that is responsible for ensuring the message is heard and seen accurately by turning up the volume on the right parts of the story at the right time. Similarly, timing is crucial for successful knowledge translation. Turn the sound up on the wrong person at the wrong time and the whole performance could fail. Fail to spotlight the right person at the right time, and the story may be lost. Sometimes the KB is the costume designer – providing local technical assistance for the appearance of the end product. The KB costume design role facilitates others to be able to tailor their knowledge to the specific context, to enhance the clarity of the story so the character and their words are understood. As Lomas says, ‘Decision makers – the patients, the care providers, the managers, and the policymakers – tend to see research as a product they can purchase from the local knowledge store, but too often it is the wrong size, needs some assembly, is on back order, and comes from last year’s fashion line’ (Lomas, 2007: 130). It is the role of the costume designer to ensure the knowledge fits – to tailor it to the audience. In our role, we have facilitated different groups of people – often clinicians and academics – to work together on research projects or solve clinical problems. We have tailored the developed educational materials to the specific context of our school, encouraging known strengths and informing identified needs. It was often this hands-on assistance that helped the knowledge be understood and acted upon.

Team Knowledge Broker

To date, the KB literature consistently reports a role that is large and varied, potentially leading to unrealistic expectations about the skills of any one broker. Perhaps, like the musical, it was never meant to be the role of one but a team of several people with varying skills who work together. Although KBs need to be flexible and adaptable across many facets of the musical it is important that they are not spread too thinly, even in the case of budgetary limitations. We would never ask someone to simultaneously direct, do makeup and set design, and so it is also unrealistic to expect a KB to be all things to all actors. Emphasising that knowledge brokerage is best done by a team, allows the differences between team members in brokering styles and skills to facilitate a united message – KB needs to be collective (Waring et al, 2019). Previous studies report the value of having a team of KBs who can share and support each other to navigate problems (Wye et al, 2019), with team-based brokering dispelling the tensions of other brokering models (Kislov et al, 2017), and communication with other KBs being key to developing autonomy (Chew et al, 2013). For us, working as a KB team has led to diversity in skill, experience and thought that has greatly benefitted our capacity to broker knowledge well. Our KB team came from different discipline backgrounds, different research areas and different working styles. Building a strong, reliable and trustworthy bond strengthened our efforts. The KB role could be extremely lonely and isolating (Chew et al, 2013), but the sense of team, for us, made it both rewarding and productive.

Conclusion

KBs have traditionally been described as needing a broad range of skills and characteristics. Using the musical as an analogy, we propose, based on our experience of our KB role in a university health sciences school, that knowledge brokerage in higher education primarily involves four main areas: 1) know your cast and crew; 2) train your cast and crew; 3) rehearse and review; and 4) provide hands-on support. Further to this, we suggest that knowledge brokerage is best delivered by teams built on mutual trust and respect. Obviously, there are limits to this analogy, for example, the degree to which the musical team and audience interact is probably less than would be desirable between researchers, KBs and end users. However, the intent of this analogy is to provide clarity around the role of KBs in a practical sense and to help KBs. Using these principles of practice as a guide, we hope considering the musical analogy will support future KBs to understand their place in the knowledge translation story, to measure their success against these principles highlighting their own value, and to change practice and policy so that KBs can become part of core business within the university sector. Then successful knowledge translation can occur, where the application by the actors (researchers) moves the audience (through the practice of exchange), communicated in a relatable language (through the practice of dissemination and exchange). Without the KB, the story may be told, but may never be experienced by the audience in the fullness of its clarity and depth. It is only then that you can sit back and enjoy the show.

Research ethics statement

Research ethics for data referred to in this paper was obtained from the University of Queensland HREC (2020000098).

Contributor statement

All authors contributed to all aspects of the study design and manuscript preparation.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that there is no conflict of interest.

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  • Kislov, R., Wilson, P. and Boaden, R. (2017) The ‘dark side’ of knowledge brokering, Journal of Health Services Research and Policy, 22(2): 107112. doi: 10.1177/1355819616653981

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Lightowler, C. and Knight, C. (2013) Sustaining knowledge exchange and research impact in the social sciences and humanities: investing in knowledge broker roles in UK universities, Evidence & Policy, 9(3): 31734.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Lomas, J. (2007) The in-between world of knowledge brokering, BMJ, 334(7585): 12932. doi: 10.1136/bmj.39038.593380.AE

  • MacKillop, E., Quarmby, S. and Downe, J. (2020) Does knowledge brokering facilitate evidence based policy? A review of existing knowledge and an agenda for future research, Policy & Politics, 48(2): 33553.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Martinelli, A., Meyer, M. and von Tunzelmann, M. (2008) Becoming an entrepreneurial university? A case study of knowledge exchange relationships and faculty attitudes in a medium-sized, research-oriented university, Journal of Technology Transfer, 33(3): 25983. doi: 10.1007/s10961-007-9031-5

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Meyer, M. (2010) The rise of the knowledge broker, Science Communication, 32(1): 11827. doi: 10.1177/1075547009359797

  • Newman, K., DeForge, R., Van Eerd, D., Mok, Y.W. and Cornelissen, E. (2020) A mixed methods examination of knowledge brokers and their use of theoretical frameworks and evaluative practices, Health Research Policy and Systems, 18(1): 34. doi: 10.1186/s12961-020-0545-8

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Phipps, D. and Morton, S. (2013) Qualities of knowledge brokers: reflections from practice, Evidence & Policy, 9(2): 25565.

  • Powell, B.J., Waltz, T.J., Chinman, M.J., Damschroder, L.J., Smith, J.L., Matthieu, M.M., Proctor, E.K. and Kirchner, J.E. (2015) A refined compilation of implementation strategies: results from the Expert Recommendations for Implementing Change (ERIC) project, Implementation Science, 10(21): 14. doi: 10.1186/s13012-014-0201-1

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Stetler, C.B., Damschroder, L.J., Helfrich, C.D. and Hagedorn, H.J. (2011) A guide for applying a revised version of the PARIHS framework for implementation, Implementation Science, 6: 99. doi: 10.1186/1748-5908-6-10

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Szulanski, G., Ringov, D. and Jensen, R.J. (2016) Overcoming stickiness: how the timing of knowledge transfer methods affects transfer difficulty, Organization Science, 27(2): 30422. doi: 10.1287/orsc.2016.1049

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Traynor, R., DeCorby, K. and Dobbins, M. (2014) Knowledge brokering in public health: a tale of two studies, Public Health, 128(6): 53344. doi: 10.1016/j.puhe.2014.01.015

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Van Kammen, J., de Savigny, D. and Sewankambo, N. (2006) Using knowledge brokering to promote evidence-based policy-making: the need for support structures, Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 84(8): 60812. doi: 10.2471/BLT.05.028308

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Waltz, T.J., Powell, B.J., Matthieu, M.M., Damschroder, L.J., Chinman, M.J., Smith, J.L., Proctor, E.K. and Kirchner, J.E. (2015) Use of concept mapping to characterize relationships among implementation strategies and assess their feasibility and importance: results from the Expert Recommendations for Implementing Change (ERIC) study, Implementation Science, 10(109): 8. doi: 10.1186/s13012-014-0190-0

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ward, V. (2017) Why, whose, what and how? A framework for knowledge mobilisers, Evidence & Policy, 13(3): 47797.

  • Ward, V., House, A. and Hamer, S. (2009) Knowledge brokering: the missing link in the evidence to action chain?, Evidence & Policy, 5(3): 26779.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Waring, J., Clarke, J. and Vickers, R. (2019) A comparative ethnographic study of collective knowledge brokering across the syntactic, semantic and pragmatic knowledge boundaries in applied health research, Evidence & Policy, 17(1): 120.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Williams, P. (2002) The competent boundary spanner, Public Administration, 80(1): 10324. doi: 10.1111/1467-9299.00296

  • Wye, L., Cramer, H., Carey, J., Anthwal, R., Rooney, J., Robinson, R., Beckett, K., Farr, M., le May, A. and Baxter, H. (2019) Knowledge brokers or relationship brokers? The rote of an embedded knowledge mobilisation team, Evidence & Policy, 15(2): 27792.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Yin, R. (2012) Case study methods, in H. Cooper (ed) APA Handbook of Research Methods in Psychology, vol 2, Research Designs: Quantitative, Qualitative, Neuropsychological, and Biological, Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

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  • View in gallery

    ERIC category domains for the knowledge broker role

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    ERIC category activities for the knowledge broker role (with % of total time)

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    Timeline of the evolving role of the knowledge broker in higher education of the three most common activities in each domain of practice

  • Bayley, E. and Phipps, D. (2019) Building the concept of research impact literacy, Evidence & Policy, 15(4): 597606.

  • Bornbaum, C.C., Kornas, K., Peirson, L. and Rosella, L.C. (2015) Exploring the function and effectiveness of knowledge brokers as facilitators of knowledge translation in Health-related settings: a systematic review and thematic analysis, Implementation Science, 10: 162. doi: 10.1186/s13012-015-0351-9

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  • Chan, J., Paletz, S.B.F. and Schunn, C.D. (2012) Analogy as a strategy for supporting complex problem solving under uncertainty, Memory and Cognition, 40(8): 135265. doi: 10.3758/s13421-012-0227-z

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  • Chew, S., Armstrong, N. and Martin, G. (2013) Institutionalising knowledge brokering as a sustainable knowledge translation solution in healthcare: how can it work in practice? Evidence & Policy, 9(3): 33551.

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  • CIHR (Canadian Institutes of Health Research) (2010) More about knowledge translation, http://www.cihr-irsc.gc.ca/e/39033.html.

  • Cramm, H., Short, B. and Donnelly, C.A. (2016) Knowledge translation and occupational therapy: a survey of Canadian university programs, Open Journal of Occupational Therapy, 4(4): 111. doi: 10.15453/2168-6408.1196

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  • Currie, G. and White, L. (2012) Inter-professional barriers and knowledge brokering in an organizational context: the case of healthcare, Organization Studies, 33(10): 133361. doi: 10.1177/0170840612457617

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  • Gholami, J. et al. (2013) Knowledge translation in Iranian universities: need for serious interventions, Health Research Policy and Systems, 11: 43. doi: 10.1186/1478-4505-11-43

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  • Greenhalgh, T., Robert, G., Macfarlane, F., Bate, P. and Kyriakidou, O. (2004) Diffusion of innovations in service organizations: systematic review and recommendations, Milbank Quarterly, 82(4): 581629. doi: 10.1111/j.0887-378X.2004.00325.x

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  • Harvey, G., Marshall, R.J., Jordan, Z. and Kitson, A.L. (2015) Exploring the hidden barriers in knowledge translation: a case study within an academic community, Qualitative Health Research, 25(11): 150617. doi: 10.1177/1049732315580300

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  • Jacobson, N., Butterill, D. and Goering, P. (2004) Organizational factors that influence university-based researchers’ engagement in knowledge transfer activities, Science Communication, 25(3): 24659. doi: 10.1177/1075547003262038

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    • Export Citation
  • Kislov, R., Wilson, P. and Boaden, R. (2017) The ‘dark side’ of knowledge brokering, Journal of Health Services Research and Policy, 22(2): 107112. doi: 10.1177/1355819616653981

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Lightowler, C. and Knight, C. (2013) Sustaining knowledge exchange and research impact in the social sciences and humanities: investing in knowledge broker roles in UK universities, Evidence & Policy, 9(3): 31734.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Lomas, J. (2007) The in-between world of knowledge brokering, BMJ, 334(7585): 12932. doi: 10.1136/bmj.39038.593380.AE

  • MacKillop, E., Quarmby, S. and Downe, J. (2020) Does knowledge brokering facilitate evidence based policy? A review of existing knowledge and an agenda for future research, Policy & Politics, 48(2): 33553.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Martinelli, A., Meyer, M. and von Tunzelmann, M. (2008) Becoming an entrepreneurial university? A case study of knowledge exchange relationships and faculty attitudes in a medium-sized, research-oriented university, Journal of Technology Transfer, 33(3): 25983. doi: 10.1007/s10961-007-9031-5

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Meyer, M. (2010) The rise of the knowledge broker, Science Communication, 32(1): 11827. doi: 10.1177/1075547009359797

  • Newman, K., DeForge, R., Van Eerd, D., Mok, Y.W. and Cornelissen, E. (2020) A mixed methods examination of knowledge brokers and their use of theoretical frameworks and evaluative practices, Health Research Policy and Systems, 18(1): 34. doi: 10.1186/s12961-020-0545-8

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Phipps, D. and Morton, S. (2013) Qualities of knowledge brokers: reflections from practice, Evidence & Policy, 9(2): 25565.

  • Powell, B.J., Waltz, T.J., Chinman, M.J., Damschroder, L.J., Smith, J.L., Matthieu, M.M., Proctor, E.K. and Kirchner, J.E. (2015) A refined compilation of implementation strategies: results from the Expert Recommendations for Implementing Change (ERIC) project, Implementation Science, 10(21): 14. doi: 10.1186/s13012-014-0201-1

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Stetler, C.B., Damschroder, L.J., Helfrich, C.D. and Hagedorn, H.J. (2011) A guide for applying a revised version of the PARIHS framework for implementation, Implementation Science, 6: 99. doi: 10.1186/1748-5908-6-10

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Szulanski, G., Ringov, D. and Jensen, R.J. (2016) Overcoming stickiness: how the timing of knowledge transfer methods affects transfer difficulty, Organization Science, 27(2): 30422. doi: 10.1287/orsc.2016.1049

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Traynor, R., DeCorby, K. and Dobbins, M. (2014) Knowledge brokering in public health: a tale of two studies, Public Health, 128(6): 53344. doi: 10.1016/j.puhe.2014.01.015

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Van Kammen, J., de Savigny, D. and Sewankambo, N. (2006) Using knowledge brokering to promote evidence-based policy-making: the need for support structures, Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 84(8): 60812. doi: 10.2471/BLT.05.028308

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Waltz, T.J., Powell, B.J., Matthieu, M.M., Damschroder, L.J., Chinman, M.J., Smith, J.L., Proctor, E.K. and Kirchner, J.E. (2015) Use of concept mapping to characterize relationships among implementation strategies and assess their feasibility and importance: results from the Expert Recommendations for Implementing Change (ERIC) study, Implementation Science, 10(109): 8. doi: 10.1186/s13012-014-0190-0

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ward, V. (2017) Why, whose, what and how? A framework for knowledge mobilisers, Evidence & Policy, 13(3): 47797.

  • Ward, V., House, A. and Hamer, S. (2009) Knowledge brokering: the missing link in the evidence to action chain?, Evidence & Policy, 5(3): 26779.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Waring, J., Clarke, J. and Vickers, R. (2019) A comparative ethnographic study of collective knowledge brokering across the syntactic, semantic and pragmatic knowledge boundaries in applied health research, Evidence & Policy, 17(1): 120.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Williams, P. (2002) The competent boundary spanner, Public Administration, 80(1): 10324. doi: 10.1111/1467-9299.00296

  • Wye, L., Cramer, H., Carey, J., Anthwal, R., Rooney, J., Robinson, R., Beckett, K., Farr, M., le May, A. and Baxter, H. (2019) Knowledge brokers or relationship brokers? The rote of an embedded knowledge mobilisation team, Evidence & Policy, 15(2): 27792.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Yin, R. (2012) Case study methods, in H. Cooper (ed) APA Handbook of Research Methods in Psychology, vol 2, Research Designs: Quantitative, Qualitative, Neuropsychological, and Biological, Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation

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